Landscaping the Woods


Did you ever think about “landscaping the woods”? It does seem like an oxymoron in theory. Also, a difficult task to undertake and do well. One marries the wildness of the natural world to your own aesthetic into a space always pushing to keep it out. This post starts a series on further enhancing the experience of your woodland.


Moccasin Lady Slipper

Do we add plants or let nature provide for us? Good question, but either way works if one stays sympathetic to the nature of the woodland itself.


White Trout Lilies

In this post, I show you a local State Park where Oak Hill Project is located. The Project area is rather small in comparison. While I am talking in general terms concerning landscaping woodlands in this post, this project has so many creative ideas.


Trout Lily

It is intimate in scale and was once the property of a few local Lewiston residents. From 1798 when the land was granted by the crown to James Skinner, U.E.L. until 1898, one hundred years later, it was the home of the Clarks, Streets and Macklems, the families that controlled the mills of Bridgewater, so you can see it was family owned.


One idea to note at this park is the massing of the native plants. Since this garden had been designed, there was control in determining the light and how much space certain plants were “allowed” to colonize. And light is key on using certain plants, but how to get it in a woodland is the question?


Wild Tulip

Well, considering the amount of shade in forested areas, and bright clearings are far and few between after trees leaf out, plant selection becomes mainly what would likely grow there if left to its own devises. Many shade plants do well in these forest conditions, like ferns for example. Shown above is wild tulip and below Tiger Daylilies. Below also Cinnamon Fern and Columbine.


Forests do have limitations, some they contend with quite well.


Large forest trees rob nutrients and water from the lower ground plants, but those falling leaves each fall replenish the nutrients to breakdown debris to the darkest, rich, moist, and airy soils.


Trout Lilies

Trees can be thinned to create some clearings where flowering plants can flourish. In nature, trees suffer from wind, lightening, fire, or over population which naturally may open the canopy. If working your woodland, cull the poorer or dead trees to give the more desirable plants a better chance at survival.


Opening the forest canopy will add sunlight to encourage the growth of native ground covers and wildflowers, like the Erigeron above. Also, air circulation is improved, cutting down on too much moisture and fungal disease.


The woods are also a place to find rustic structures like the hut and seating arbor.


One can add a small pond if water is not on the property, but the water should have movement to keep the mosquitoes at bay. See how the one below (and opening the post) has the hand of man, yet still looks natural to its environment? Coming up in the last post of the series, more on streams and the paths that surround or cross them.


In deeper shade, emerald colored moss often covers areas in the forest. Moss touched by the sun is almost magical in the forest – way better than in a lawn.


One thing about woodlands and being surrounded by all that is tall, it encourages one to get down and get another perspective to view the very small.


This series of posts are not about creating a woodland garden from scratch, but enhancing the experience of one created in nature. If you remember my series of posts on the understory, 1, 2, and 3, you will remember everything in nature is layered with high to mid canopies,  the understory plants and ground covers.  Advantage… lower maintenance.

Fallen trees can become a feature, like the “doorway” if a tree limbs over the path, or they can be carved into art like two images below.



They also can become seating, here in a theater like arrangement for story telling facing a platform. Even the stage area looks to be a slab of slate (stained concrete), for a more natural look. I was at another woodland park that also had a storytelling station, but they did it much differently, all in natural materials.



New plants adapt more easily when planted in the rich, moist forest soil. Mulch after first planting and the forest will do it come fall. I find in wooded areas, the plants do fine and maintenance of thinning and pruning happens infrequently. The most labor intensive chore is keeping the paths of travel from being overgrown. More on paths coming up.


Strive to harmonize with nature by diversifying plantings in your woodland, and your landscape practices will improve wildlife habitat. Join me on a walk through the woods. You just might be surprised what you might find and can use in your own woodland as you make a path to find it.


See Off Into the Woods of Lewiston Gardens for more trips through the woods dotted with interesting finds. Next, art seamlessly integrated into the woods. Not a post to miss!


About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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48 Responses to Landscaping the Woods

  1. navasolanature says:

    We are trying to manage a woodland in Southern Spain and clearing around the old chestnut trees seems to have increased the number of wild peonies. Will be interested in following what you are up to too.

  2. Lovely photos and wonderful ideas. We certainly saw a woodland garden that would benefit from your approach during your recent visit. It is so important to let the native plants run “wild” even if the wild is at first human created. I wish my trout lilies would bloom in such patches.

  3. Great ideas and tips. Thanks for giving us an appreciation for shade plants and a more natural environment.

  4. Stunning photo’s. Always looking for new places to hike with the kids.

    I grew up about 30 minutes from Lewiston. Lovely place to visit and dine!!!

  5. My Heartsong says:

    The photos of the logs on the ground reminded me of well-loved camp gatherings from a long time ago. Love those eastern jack-in the pulpits and the rocks set up in the natural setting. We have a lot of old growth here and the trees are falling at an alarming rate with the help of the winds and beaver.They become good places to rest when my back and hip give me trouble.So I say yes, clear them out, but do leave some logs or stumps for resting on. Your articles have heightened my awareness and I am more observant of what is falling as well as what is replacing the old growth. I thank you for that. I agree the mosses in some areas when touched by the light are magical – like a fairy garden.

    • Beavers really are a tree’s nemesis. Glad they are not near me. I find so much in the woods that reminds me of being in an enchanted place. Looking close really does remind me of fairy gardens too!

  6. Debra says:

    Forest gardening is CHALLENGING but oh so worth it. These are my favorite ‘gardens.’ I read a great piece that suggested the whole Amazon basin is actually the remnant of a garden. The author suggested it is one of the great wonders of the world.

  7. Cnawan Fahey says:

    Such a wonderful post! Reminds me of an article that I read years ago about restoration ecology…that humans who are deeply connected to the earth intuitively act as her stewards, just as unconsciously as creatures such as bees and beavers, working to propagate and and improve the landscape in accordance with her design…

  8. Morgan says:

    This is Beautiful 🙂

  9. A.M.B. says:

    Beautiful! I love finding rustic structures in the woods.

  10. Annette says:

    Adorable! I love woodlands and think they work best (when designed) when you preserve the wild look and make it feel natural and un-designed. We have a little woodland with wildflowers (orchids etc.) and I have just added convallaria, ferns and helleborus foetidus which are endemic anyway. We cut a “window”, built a bench and enjoy the atmosphere with an apéritif in the evening. Anything artificial would look out of place.

    • I cut windows also in design. Adds mystery when one can’t see all at once. My next post has much artificial, but you will be surprised how it all comes together. The three posts are back to back, so no waiting.

  11. Bevinne Morse says:

    Looks like some of my 3/4 acre. My hubby calls it natures barbed wire – that’s the blackberries and if I leave them for a while they will take over the whole land. 🙂 LOL! So I plant around the edges of the barbed wire. 🙂 Wild places are really great on any land b’c that’s where the beneficial bugs live. 🙂

    • Some plants are so aggressive, especially all the bramble plants. True that the native plants support much of the beneficial insects. Nice you have land, my lot is very tiny, lucky I design on properties of many acres.

  12. As with everything, it’s a matter of balance and mainly doing things with love. This is a place of earth and man harmonic coexistence! I love the detais you’ve captured. Enjoy your weekend, my dear Donna. (We’ve escaped to our country house for a couple of days rest!) 🙂

  13. cindy knoke says:

    wonderful post! thank you~

  14. milliontrees says:

    Lovely! The hand of the gardener is nearly invisible.

  15. Pat says:

    Such beautiful woodland scenes.

  16. What an enchanting woodland. I have no problem with this type of landscaping, and I love the naturalized flowers. I do hope, though, that they use some restraint in removing dead and dying trees as they are important nesting sites.

    • Do you leave dead trees? 😀 My posts, 1, 2, and 3 on the understory/forests linked in this post recommend leaving some wildness for the very benefit of the birds and bugs that use brush piles and dead or downed trees. Also in those posts, I explain how I do it here on my tiny city lot. I guess you noticed in the images that there were quite a few dead trees all over this park. I was saying to create open canopy for certain plantings to remove the damaged trees in those areas, not all throughout the park. Opening the canopy in areas adds “surprise” along paths and many design opportunities, but they are addressed in the next two posts. Hope you get a chance to follow the series. I too love the naturalized flowers. Getting them where you want them sometimes is challenging though. Finding the right conditions makes them colonize like they have done here.

  17. Fabulous approach to woodlands! We are working on managing our woodland area. First is to finish removing all the invasive plants and then allowing the natives to move back in. We’ve already found ferns, trillium, heart leaf ginger and American elderberry. I am looking forward to your post on paths!

    • This location also had trillium, ginger, and fern. I could have shown over thirty different native plants on this site. Some grew opportunistically and I cannot even identify a few of them. I have been looking and looking too. Your woodland will be spectacular when you are finished. You might have some difficulty “allowing the natives to move back in.” Often, because conditions change over time, some natives no longer find the site to their liking. Plus trees have thousands of offspring each year and woodland understory gets inundated with seedlings. It is work to “work” on cleared or partially cleared woodlands. Nature pushes back very hard.

  18. This landscape is very sensitively executed with an appreciation for nature. I will enjoy this series. And beautifully photographed, as always.

  19. Gorgeous photos…Most interesting post. 🙂

  20. lucindalines says:

    Quite nice, and nothing at all like we have here, but that is the beauty of the differences in the world.

    • So true. I find when I travel, I see beauty where others that are from there may not. I know I miss PA and find it much more interesting of a landscape than here, but did not feel that way at first. Familiarity breeds ambivalence.

  21. Donna I am happy to see this post as so many want to cut down the woods to make a garden…but they can enhance it and still leave the beauty of the woods and wildflowers.

  22. Brian Comeau says:

    There is a huge nature park close to our home. I need to visit soon. You’ve given me a new perspective on things. Thanks for sharing!

  23. The row of homes on our side of the street have a deep, wooded ravine at the end of their back yards. The neighbors on both sides of us have cleared most of the trees off of their hillsides, and I was thinking I should do the same. Now I’m thinking I should view the ravine as a project to shape, by removing certain trees, retaining others, and “ravine-scaping” the rest.

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